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Immigration Hits Center Stage in North Carolina

The controversial issue of illegal immigration came into focus this week in North Carolina on two separate fronts.

In a somewhat surprising decision, the Department of Motor Vehicles will comply with a legal opinion by the state’s Attorney General and issue drivers licenses to thousands of illegal immigrants in North Carolina.

Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office said Jan. 17 that participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program qualify for licenses because they are given work permits that prove their “legal presence” in North Carolina. That means they meet requirements set by state law for drivers who are not U.S. citizens.

On March 25, DMV offices will begin issuing licenses to DACA participants who pass tests and provide documentation. Tata said it would take time to train license examiners and make computer software changes necessary to produce the new licenses.

The issue affects teenagers and young adults – estimated at 18,000 to 50,000 in North Carolina – who were brought to the United States illegally as children. President Barack Obama’s DACA program provides two-year work permits and a deferral of deportation for young immigrants who meet certain requirements that involve age and education or military service.

The Attorney General’s opinion came after the President’s executive order regarding the DACA program last year.

However, House Republicans in the General Assembly have moved quickly to try to stop the DMV action.

The bill to freeze licenses for DACA participants through June 15 is sponsored by Reps. Mark Brody of Monroe, John R. Bell IV of Goldsboro, Donny Lambeth of Winston-Salem and Chris Millis of Hampstead. It criticizes the Obama administration for not enforcing immigration laws; the administration of former Gov. Bev Perdue, for requesting the attorney general’s opinion; and Cooper’s office, for issuing an opinion “that further complicates the application of the law.”

Instead, the bill says, “the complexity of these issues requires a carefully crafted legislative response, undertaken only after thorough investigation and deliberation by the people’s elected representatives in the General Assembly.”

Meanwhile, internal emails released this week show that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency frantically tried to increase deportations last year of illegal immigrants and the Carolinas were one of their main targets.

Concerned about falling short of congressional deportation targets, federal immigration officials last year beefed up efforts to remove thousands more illegal immigrants convicted of crimes.

Internal emails demonstrate how U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement looked to communities in the Carolinas and Georgia, which have had some of the fastest-growing illegal immigrant populations in the country, in an almost desperate attempt to boost their numbers.

The email exchanges among officials are pleading in nature while emphasizing the need to meet removal targets. They illustrate how aggressively ICE leadership has focused on meeting removal targets that have annually broken records for the number of deportations, which the White House uses to tout its focus on criminal illegal immigrants.

“The only performance measure that will count this fiscal year is the criminal alien removal target,” [David] Venturella wrote.

Venturella was the office who led ICE field operations during the time the released emails were written and exchanged.

Vincent Picard, an ICE spokesman, said in a statement Wednesday that the agency prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, recent border crossers and those who previously have been removed from the United States.

He said the agency must submit annual performance goals as part of the budgeting process.

“ICE does not have quotas,” he said.

The documents obtained by the ACLU recalled that Charlotte fugitive operations teams participated in a 2007 traffic checkpoint in Mecklenburg County that “netted multiple criminal arrests.”

North Carolina communities have had a close relationship with federal immigration officials, often serving as an early adopter of federal projects such as 287g and Secure Community, both of which link federal and local law enforcement by identifying suspected illegal immigrants who have been arrested.

According to the emails, headquarters last year directed agents to implement the plan, which recommended more traffic checkpoints in the state but instructed ICE agents “not be at the checkpoint itself so this would not appear to be an ICE organized checkpoint.”

The emails were released as part of a Freedom of Information Act request related to a traffic checkpoint incident in May, 2012 in Asheville, N.C.

Bruce Carroll

Bruce has his own blog, GayPatriot.org and is active on Twitter as @GayPatriot. Bruce lives near Charlotte, NC and enjoys country music and his three dogs.

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